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Robert S. McElvaine Headshot

Boehner Admits to 'Capital Strike'

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OBAMA BOEHNER
AP

In 1937, when the economy went into a renewed nosedive during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt claimed that the cause was a "capital strike" by businessmen intent on destroying him and the New Deal. Roosevelt had the FBI launch an investigation of a possible criminal conspiracy by the putative corporate "strikers." The general reaction from Republicans at the time was to ridicule FDR for attempting to cast the blame away from himself and onto businessmen.

It was surprising in mid-2010 when "conservative" writer Amity Shlaes endorsed Roosevelt's view of what happened in 1937-38. She said there had been a "capital strike" in those years because of the "anti-business whimsy" of the Roosevelt administration. Shlaes went on to say last year that there was again a capital strike aimed at forcing the Obama Administration to cut spending and taxes. She succinctly described this business conspiracy against the American economy and the American people: "Companies making money and banking it. No spending. No hiring."

It was one thing for the unreconstructed antisocial Darwinist Ms. Shlaes, the darling of the right for her completely wrong-headed view of the Great Depression presented in her 2007 book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, to say that corporate America was on strike in the midst of a national emergency.

Now, though, leading Republicans themselves are saying that what FDR fancied was happening three-quarters of a century ago is actually happening today.

"Job creators in America basically are on strike," House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday. The Republican leader was openly admitting that one of the main problems with the economy and unemployment is that corporate "job creators" will continue to sit on the $2.5 trillion they have available to invest, improve the economy and provide jobs, until they are given even lower tax rates and eased government regulation.

The veil has finally been removed and the political representatives of corporate interests are letting everyone see where they are coming from and who they are serving.

Will this admission be enough to lead President Obama, the Democrats, and the American people finally to recognize the corporate interests for what their defenders Ms. Shlaes and Mr. Boehner say they are: greedy, unpatriotic forces willing to hold the nation and its people hostage until they get everything they want?

Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm professor of arts & letters and Professor of History at Millsaps College, in Jackson, Miss. His books include The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941. He is now writing "Oh, Freedom! -- The Young ' 60s."